The Message of the Laws of Channukah


A. The Law: Beis Hillel says to increase one candle each night; Beis Shammai says to

decrease one candle each night.

The meaning: The miracle retarded the burning of the oil. Beis Shammai celebrates

the inner change - on the first night there is enough miracle oil for eight nights, on the second enough for seven nights, etc. Beis Hillel celebrates the outer expression of the innner change. All inner achievements are for the sake of their impact on the world.

Example: gifts of leadership are for the sake of the community (Moses descent from Mt. Sinai).

B. The Law: We do not mention the miracle of the oil even when we light the menorah. We start to light on Kislev 25 even though they first lit on Kislev 26. We light for eight even though one night's oil was found and the miracle added only seven nights.

The Meaning: The function of the miracle of the oil is to interpret the military victory appropriately - as a "hidden miracle." The goal is to see "ordinary" life as an

expression of divine providence. (The word "nes" as flagpole, test and miracle;

compare litmus paper.) [Therefore the oil miracle is not mentioned in the prayers.] The

first light is for the military victory freeing Jerusalem and cleansing the Temple.

[Therefore we light on Kislev 25; we light seven more nights for the seven nights of

miracle burning.] The military victory is for the sake of the service of the menorah - freedom is justified by service of G-d. (No commitment to "universal human rights" - others, and we in other times, not saved from slavery - compare exodus "to be your

G-d".) The war was fought for the sake of the service in the Temple (and continued after Kislev 25). Social action must serve a worthy moral-spiritual purpose. (Contrast animal protection and full employment under the Nazis.)

C. The Law: The minimum is one candle per house per night; it is optional to add a

candle each night.

The Meaning: The menorah could have been lit with impure oil. The miracle made

it possible to do the best possible service. Thus the law allows an optional level of

performance to do the best possible.

D. The Law: The lights cannot be used for any practical benefit (placed low, in a

lighted room), even for learning Torah.

The Meaning: The struggle against Greek wisdom was not so much because it is

false, but because for the Greeks, wisdom is intrinsically the highest possible human

activity (because intellect is man's unique ability). For Judaism, the only intrinsic value

is holiness (= closeness to G-d); wisdom is only a means to that end (as is everything

else).

(Note: "The Meaning" refers to one among many valid meanings the laws possess.)


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